MCKNOTES TAKES A BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE
For seventeen years I lived in Hawaii where one of the many jobs I had during that time was serving as a music critic. My assignment was to cover the symphony and opera seasons, but occasionally, my editor asked me to cover other events as well. I reviewed a local production of a musical called “Naughty Marietta.” I’ve had quite a bit of musical theatre experience in my life, but sitting through this three hour production was a real challenge. My review was most unfavorable. For that newspaper, which was the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, we had people who wrote the headlines for us so that my review was titled “Naughty Marietta Deserves a Good Spanking.”
I gave voice to my dissatisfaction with the casting, sets, costumes, and mostly the director. I was brutal. After that, my superiors at the newspaper never again assigned me to cover local productions. I did give a nod to one actor, however. After a time, that actor contacted me and asked me to serve as music director for his production company, which was called “ASATAD,” an acronym for “All Singing, All Talking, All Dancing.” I accompanied some of his shows, wrote incidental music or coached singers in others. In some cases I wore all three hats for a single show. I didn’t keep count, but I was involved with at least 20 productions with his company.
I’m still in touch with the producer/director/actor of that organization. He is probably the best actor I have ever known personally. Like everyone else, he has faced some bumps in the road. Since I experienced my own roads that cried out for repair, I kept this man on my list of friends. I believe that friendship is most important when a person most needs friends, so when he was down, I remained steadfast in my friendship with him.
A few years ago, this man wrote a one man play called “Naked Darrow.” It is about Clarence Darrow’s decline from great legal orator to the onset of senility. The play is powerful and moving story written by my friend, Gary Anderson, who also plays the title role.
Gary contacted me and asked me to write some music to accompany the performance. After working together for a number of years, he learned to appreciate that my aim was never to steal the scene with overpowering music, but aimed at enhancing the action on the stage, at times providing breaks in a drama that needs interruption.
In the case of “Naked Darrow,” I chose to write bassoon music without any accompaniment. For me, the bassoon is soulful, but it also sounds a lot like an aging man. The play premiered in St. Paul, Minnesota, where it was well received. All reports indicated that the music created exactly the atmosphere at which I had aimed.
Now that same play, including my music, is scheduled to open off Broadway. The Drilling Company is a small theatre near W 78th St. and Broadway in Manhattan. It offers a venue for new plays that are climbing toward more established venues and larger audiences. “Naked Darrow” will open on June 7th for a run of 19 performances. There have been other performances of this show since the original premiere, mostly in small venues. It has captured the attention of the legal community since it deals with the life of one of the early leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union. Darrow is best known for his work defending teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb, and for his role in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial in which he opposed William Jennings Bryan, who was three times a U.S. presidential candidate. In that trial, Darrow defended John T. Scopes, who was fired from his teaching job for imparting the concepts of evolution to his students.
I will travel to New York for the premiere of this new show. My work is completed, but I will be on hand for the opening night. The music I wrote is not earth shattering and has little use beyond providing some relief from the intensity of the drama on the stage, in line with my aim not to overpower the activity, but only to, perhaps, clarify or heighten the emotional content of the play.
Alert the paparazzi! I haven’t been to New York for thirty years. This is more a symbolic journey for me than anything else. I will sit proudly among the crowd and know that my music has reached a new audience and represents an expansion of my own artistic endeavors. There will be no ticker tape parade, limousines or red carpet interviews with Joan Rivers asking what I’m wearing, but it will be a proud moment in my life, nonetheless.